Environment, Climate and Nature Conservation
Raw Material Extraction and Procurement
As part of the substrate and soil production process, we are involved in the business side of the high quality material use of the raw materials we utilize, that are more important to us than just their energetic use.
Historically, peat has always been the most important natural resource for our company. Because alternative materials are not available in large quantities and because the cultivation of plants using alternative raw materials is much more difficult and costly, peat will remain the most important resource for producing growing media for the foreseeable future.
Because so many quantitive and qualitative reasons speak for the peat as a raw material, we would like to present to you how we handle peat extraction and use:
We obtain most of our frozen black peat from the area surrounding our Georgsdorf plant and can use this peat without wasting large amounts of energy on transport. In addition to this, we have to buy our white peat sods and white milled peat from different northern European countries due to the low supply of these resources in Germany.
Our peat extraction happens only in the excavation areas that have been approved by conservation authorities for the corresponding region. The subsequent use (rewetting and nature conservation, land or agriculture in old permits) and the compensation measures (for example the allocation of land for local bird populations) are both regulated by authorities. All measures are met responsibly. All legal guidelines and regulatory instructions are followed meticulously.
As a member of the IVG, we support the development of a European certification system for the responsible extraction and use of peat (rpp: responsibly produced peat).
The use of peat is seen critically by many German conservation societies and more and more end users for two main reasons: nature conservation and climate problems.
The opinion that peat extraction ruins intact moors in Germany is frequently expressed in public outlets. This opinion is demonstrably false. For years, the peat industry has only been extracting peat from formerly agricultural used areas. These peat bogs were already drained, conditioned with lime, sown as grassland and thus completely destroyed as moors. The peat bogs close to nature have been almost completely protected under the upland moor protection concept since 1980 and are not available for use.
Checking the Facts: Moors and the Use of Moors in Germany
There are fens and upland moors, however, peat extraction for horticultural use can only be done in upland moors, due to the quality of the peat. The total area of German upland moors is 321,250 ha (source for these and the following numbers pertaining to peat and moors: www.warum-torf.info). Out of these, 205,900 ha can be seen as moors only from a geological perspective, since they have at least a 30 cm layer of peat. The biggest part of these areas is used for agriculture (180,000 ha or 56%); forests grow on 8% of the original moor areas. Only 25,950 ha or 8% can be seen as intact upland moors and are, for the most part, protected by conservation laws. In addition to this, there are 77,400 ha (24%) of bentgrass and wooded areas that are similar to moors. The smallest part of the former moors (12,000 ha or 4%) are used for peat extraction.
Today, responsible peat extraction is generally done in a way that enough peat thickness remains at the base of the moor, so that the areas can be rewetted for the renaturation of the moor that follows. Deviating from this, the guidelines for the approval of extraction of natural resources ("Leitfaden zur Zulassung des Abbaus von Bodenschätzen") published by the Lower Saxonian Environmental Ministry (2003) also allow the option of extensive grassland use on the remaining peat. In comparison to the old permits that, in individual cases, are still valid and allow intensive agricultural use following peat extraction, the approval practices of the last decades emphasize the interests of moor and climate protection. The image shows one of Brill's former peat extraction areas that has now been rewetted by the moor maintenance department.
Climate Protection and the Carbon Problem
The prevention of high carbon emissions and the carbon storing abilities of forests and moors is gaining importance in the public discussions concerning climate change. The fact that the agricultural use since draining the peat leads to continual carbon emissions is often overlooked. The yearly loss of peat in these areas amounts to 1 to 3 cm according to the newest research results. When the peat layer is thin after decades of use, the areas are broken up or deep-ploughed and the carbon that was bound in the peat is emitted as CO2 without having being supplied a prior, high quality material use. This is what we as substrate producers do:
- Without peat, there would be no seeding soil or pressed pots which are, for example, used for cultivating vegetable seedlings and are thus essential for securing the food supply we humans depend on.
- The moor base is preserved through rewetting, and through the following moor renaturation, the moor is sustained in the long term and again develops to become a carbon sink.
Checking the Facts: Peat and the Climate / Carbon Emissions due to the Use of Moors
The use of peat for cultivation substrates leads to the release of the carbon bound in the peat in the form of CO2. The effects of this form of carbon release are very small compared to other human activities. According to the most recent numbers available to us from the year 2007, the share of carbon emissions resulting from peat extraction and the following agricultural use amounts to approximately 0.2% of the total carbon emissions in Germany. Of these 0.2%, only 10% are released during peat extraction; the larger share of the emissions is released during agricultural use.
According to the National Environmental Ministry, Germany produced around 959 million tons of CO2 equivalents in the year 2008. 372 million tons or 39% are produced by the energy industry, 158 million tons or 16% are produced by the industrial sector, 156 million tons or 16% are produced by traffic and 104 million tons or 11% are produced by households nationwide. Only approximately 0.2% are produced by the agricultural use of substrates and by peat extraction. This is a negligible amount and for example, only one eightieth of the amount of carbon produced by traffic in Germany.
When it is nevertheless said that a significant amount of greenhouse gases are emitted from moors, these are the large amounts (84% of all emissions from German moors) that are produced by the agricultural use of highland moors and fens. Even the conservation areas, which account for 9% of emissions produced by German moors, produce more than the horticultural use of peat and its extraction (7%) do.
Alternative Raw Materials to Peat
Our sustainable product strategy is the targeted development of our assortment and in the area of high quality and sustainable substrates and soils. For years we have been developing new cultivation substrates in which quickly renewable resources are being used alongside peat more and more frequently. You can find an overview of our sustainable product development in the past years in our history, starting in 1996. Since then, we have developed excellent know-how and can offer mixes for a huge range of ornamental plants that are guaranteed to work: Green Life Substrates.
We also offer our customers a tried and tested, certified assortment of organic Bio Substrates.
As part of our high quality TerraBRILL hobby potting soil assortment, we also offer a peat free potting soil next to our universal and specialty potting soils.
The demand for these peat-reduced substrates only grows slowly, since we have garnered more experience in horticulture using peat based substrates, which has led to a high level of production reliability. A switch to substrates containing quickly renewable resources also requires a switch of cultivation habits.
The availability of peat alternatives such as wood, compost, bark and coconut is limited and is actually sinking due to the competition from the highly subsidized use of these alterntive raw materials for energy purposes (EEG, increase of biomass-fed thermal power stations). At the moment, it would not be possible to completely replace peat with alternative materials in cultivation substrates and soils due to the low and restricted availability of these raw materials.
Another aspect is also often overlooked in political discussions: the use of alternative, quickly renewable resources also creates carbon emissions. In public discussions, it is often suggested that the use of peat is bad and the use of quickly renewable resources is good. However, this problem cannot be seen in black or white. The energetic or material use of, for example, compost or wood also has consequences for the climate and the environment during production, harvest, transport and after-use. In-depth information about this topic can be found on the Epagma (European Peat And Growing Media Association) website. Epagma commissioned a study about the environmental effects of different raw materials: Life Cycle Analyses (LCA-Study).
Have you ever thought about the fact, that a high quality material use of peat, like in our high quality grwoing medias for the production of agricultural crops or ornamental plants also removes carbon from the atmosphere as part of the plant production process?
Did you know that peat power plants are being built as an alternative to atomic power plants in north-eastern Europe because these countries view peat as a renewable resource (which is probably the right perspective when regarding the regional dimensions)?
Energy and Logistics
The operation of our production plants, the harvesting of peat and the transport to the factory and to the customer require large amounts of electricity and diesel fuel. To reduce our environmental impact, we will be only being using regeneratively produced electricity starting 02.01.2015.
When buying, we value the use of regional products. This starts with our own peat fields in the near vicinity of our production plants and goes all the way to compost or substrate fibers from our region. Raw materials that are not locally available, such as CocoSol®, are bought and transported in compressed, space-saving form and are only then processed and refined when they reach our plant in Georgsdorf.
Next to cost efficiency, the following principle counts when it comes to logistics: ship before train before road, to minimize the energy consumed by freights. The white milled peat bought in north-eastern Europe is transported to the port of our sister company Brill Papenburg Logistics using energy-efficient transport via ship. When exporting to other countries, we send as much as possible in containers on cargo ships. We process as many transports as possible this way, for example to southern Italy, in combination with semi-truck/ train transports. Smaller amounts are processed by specialists for the transport of single pallets, who combine our loads with those of other companies, thus reducing the amount of energy needed for the transport.
All materials are used as long and as frequently as functionally and economically possible. For example, we use our exhibition booths for multiple exhibitions and trade fairs. In principle, we use Euro pallets whenever possible. Containers for aggregates are returned to the suppliers.
We have already stopped using cheap giveaways for promotional purposes, since these often land in the corner or in the garbage. When we give our customers something, it should be of high and long-lasting quality.
If something can no longer be used, it is recycled whenever possible. Whenever possible, we use chemically pure plastics that can be contractually recycled by the DSD.